Up, close and personal…

Het wordt niet veel persoonlijker dan dit, dus voor één keertje schrijven we ook eens in het Nederlands. Want to read the English version? Scroll down and start reading below the photos.

Eerder dit jaar las ik in een lokale krant een artikel en oproep door fotograaf Jo de Groote.  Net aan een nieuw project begonnen, Life-Live, zocht hij kandidaten voor een shoot. Niet zozeer de oproep maar het onderwerp en kadering trokken mijn aandacht: Jo zocht kandidaten voor een reeks rond personen met beperkingen, lichamelijke of emotionele, zichtbare of onzichtbare met als doel een portrettenreeks te brengen waarbij de persoon in kwestie en zijn plek in het leven en de maatschappij centraal staan, met de beperking slechts subtiel aanwezig, niet als hoofdrolspeler. Het bewuste artikel vind je hier Jo De Groote – Hannelore Vens

Eigenlijk moest ik daar helemaal niet lang over nadenken; ik stuurde Jo een mailtje en enkele weken later zaten we al samen om concrete afspraken te maken. Een risico zou je kunnen denken, want je gooit je ziel toch deels te grabbel, en die schermen we net zo graag af, bang om gekwetst te worden in een maatschappij waarin heel erg op uiterlijkheden wordt gefocust. Na het eerste gesprek met Jo wist ik echter al dat het goed zat: hij heeft een groot inlevingsvermogen, is enorm geïnteresseerd in maatschappelijke thema’s en ons persoonlijk aandeel daarin en kijkt voorbij wat aan de oppervlakte ligt.

Diegenen die mijn verhaal (nog) niet zo goed kennen: ik ben 47 en lijd al sinds mijn tienertijd aan scoliose, dat is een vergroeiing van de ruggengraat, bij mij in ernstige mate. Ik onderging verschillende operaties tussen mijn 14 en 19 jaar en had de pech dat een infectie op het fusiemateriaal roet in het eten gooide waardoor het eindresultaat van de operaties helaas niet het beoogde was. Mijn ruggenwervels werden gefixeerd met uitzondering van de twee onderste, wat natuurlijk een beperktere mobiliteit met zich meebrengt en doorheen de jaren kwamen er een heleboel aanverwante en afgeleide klachten bij. Naast de chronische dagdagelijkse pijn heb ik veel uitstralingspijnen naar de benen, nek en schouders en ook acute hevige pijnaanvallen die variëren van een halve dag tot drie dagen. Ik ga al meer dan tien jaar naar de pijnkliniek en dat haalt doorgaans de scherpe randjes er wat af, maar dan nog…er zijn zo van die dagen…

…Op zo’n dagen scroll ik al eens gemakkelijk door fotoalbums op zoek naar beelden met een happy vibe of waar voor mij een mooie herinnering aan vast hangt, daar trek ik me dan aan op. Ergens heb ik het geluk dat mijn aandoening redelijk te camoufleren valt, mits wat op mijn houding letten en slim met laagjes werken. De kans is klein, als we elkaar op straat zouden kruisen, dat je er iets van merkt, tenminste toch niet op één van de goeie dagen, de andere zal je het wel merken (Soms is dat niet-zichtbare echter een nadeel, want veel mensen redeneren ‘wat je niet ziet, is er niet’ en kunnen dan weinig begrip opbrengen).

Eén ding kan je echter maar moeilijk wegstoppen hoeveel laagjes je ook gebruikt en dat is het verdriet of de uitputting door pijn, dat laat zijn sporen na…Als je als fotograaf in staat bent om iemand die pijn eventjes te laten vergeten, waardoor je als persoon terug meer op de voorgrond komt…dat is een kunst én geschenk van onschatbare waarde!

Voor deze reeks werkt Jo samen met Veerle, allround assistente en haar dochter Anke, een jonge talentvolle fotografe die simultaan ‘behind-the-scenes’ beelden schiet, wat een extra dimensie geeft aan het eindresultaat. Daarnaast komt zij trouwens zelf ook aan bod in de reeks, maar dan voor de camera.

Tijdens de voorbereidende gesprekken en doorheen de shoot merk je de grote gedrevenheid van Jo en zijn teamgenoten. Zij stellen alles in het werk zodat er een relaxte sfeer is en je je ten allen tijde comfortabel voelt. Hij steekt enorm veel werk in de voorbereiding: de shoot moet niet enkel mooie plaatjes opleveren; bedoeling is dat je er een positief gevoel aan overhoudt; iets waar je achteraf met een glimlach kan op terugblikken en kracht kan uit putten. Voor iedere kandidaat wordt in overleg een scenario uitgewerkt, niet als strak keurslijf, meer als houvast. Wij zijn dan ook geen professionele modellen hé, een beetje richtlijn is dan altijd handig 😉 Ook na de shoot houdt Jo contact en krijgt hij graag feedback: hoe was de ervaring? Tevreden over het resultaat? Etc…

Elke shoot vindt plaats op een locatie in of rond de stad Mechelen en kleding, accessoires, e.d. worden bereidwillig ter beschikking gesteld door lokale handelaars. Toch even benadrukken dat dit project niet door buitenaf gefinancierd wordt en de kandidaten op vrijwillige en kosteloze basis meewerken alsook de handelaars die hun medewerking verlenen.

Mijn locatie voor de shoot was het prachtige Martin’s Patershof Hotel, een voormalige minderbroederskerk in het historisch hart van Mechelen en met de bewaarde booggewelven en glas-in-lood-ramen een prachtige setting. Kleding werd voorzien door Scruples Life en de handgemaakte hoeden en handtassen door Awardt, beide eveneens gevestigd in Mechelen.

Echt niet zo eenvoudig hoor, model zijn, en best vermoeiend, maar naarmate de middag vorderde kreeg ik er hoe langer hoe meer plezier in! Heb het me nog geen seconde beklaagd dat ik heb deelgenomen en kan mezelf terugvinden in alle foto’s: soms met een lach, soms met een vleugje tristesse en ja, met een flinke dosis glamour, da’s een instant oppepper! Oh ja, en die rug zit er ook ergens tussen natuurlijk, maar voor een keertje was die niet belangrijk!

Deze shoot brengt de schoonheid en kracht naar boven die in elkeen van ons zit en ben zeker dat de anderen dat ook zo zullen ervaren.

Misschien zijn onze zwakke punten net wel onze grootste kracht!

Dit ben ik…en ik leef mijn leven…mét terug een klein beetje vleugels, 

waarvoor oprechte dankjewel aan Jo, Anke en Veerle!

 

Hieronder alvast enkele sfeerbeelden…alle foto’s ©Jo Photography en ©Fotografie AnkeVh

I D 1-_O__9835

I D 2-_O__9540

IMG_0728

I D 1-_O__9886

I D 1-_O__9762-bewerkt-bewerkt

I D 1-_O__9812

IMG_0729

I D 2-_O__9668

I D 1-_O__9878

IMG_0734

I D 1-_O__9791

 

 

Wanneer alle shoots klaar zijn (voorjaar of midden 2019) wil Jo graag een expositie organiseren. Weet jij de ideale expositieruimte? Woon of werk je in Mechelen en is dit een project waar je je in kan vinden en je op één of andere manier wil aan verbinden?  Aarzel niet om Jo te contacteren. Of misschien voel je je net als ik wel aangesproken en stel je je graag kandidaat voor de reeks? degrootej.16@gmail.com

 

Up, close and personal, and yes,this post is as personal as it gets…

Earlier this year I responded to an article in a local newspaper where photograpler Jo de Groote launched a call for candidates for a shoot as he had just started his new project, Life-Lived. Not the shout-out as such, but the topic caught my attention: Jo was searching for people with disabilities or limitations, physical or emotional, visible or hidden. Goal is to bring a series of portraits and story-telling photos where not the disability, disease or limitation plays first violin. A series of photos with room for vulnerability but showing great strength too like the first shoot in the series Jo did with Hannelore Jo De Groote – Hannelore Vens

To be honest, it didn’t take me long to consider, I sent him a mail and a few weeks later we got together to discuss the concept and get to know each other…stepping into an adventure, an opportunity and bit of uncertainty…deal is to show that glimpse of your soul that is vulnerable, that part of you you otherwise carefully protect or hide in fear of getting hurt in today’s society, extremely focussed on outer appearance. After our first meeting I knew I didn’t need to worry: Jo has a strong moral compass, ability to empathize and is highly interested in interaction between the individual and society, putting well-being first.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my story: I am 47 and have severe scoliosis. I had multiple surgeries and multiple bad luck too as due to an infection end result was not what it should have been. All vertebrae, except below two, are fixed what reduces mobility of course. Over the years complications and side-effects showed: I have chronic pains on a daily basis, radiating pains in legs, neck and shoulders and severe acute pain attacks mowing me down for half a day up to three days. Have been visiting pain clinic for over ten years and the treatments take off the edge, still, some days…

…on such days I often scroll through photos in search for the happy vibes and good memories; it gives me energy, strenght and hope. In some way I can consider myself lucky: for the major part my condition can be camouflaged if I choose my clothes carefully and use layers. If our paths would cross, you probably wouldn’t even notice…well, that is on a good day, the other days, there’s no mistake, you’ll be able to tell!  There is however one thing that can not be hidden, no matter the amount of layers used and that is the feeling of exhaust the pain brings…it leaves its marks…as a photographer being able to let someone forget about the pain so that the person steps out again into the spotlight, now that is a true gift and a priceless one!

For this series photographer Jo is assisted by Veerle and her daughter Anke, with Anke being a young, talented photographer shooting simultaneously and giving a unique ‘behind-the-scenes’ as well as stepping in front of the camera herself.

During our first meeting and throughout the entire shoot, Jo’s enthusiasm en passion for what he does clearly shows. Shooting on location and not in a studio creates opportunity for more interaction. He and his team make sure there’s a comfortable ambiance at all times and a lot of time is spent on preparation too, because at the end of the shoot the goal is not to just have some pretty photos, no, they should give you that so important feeling of positivity, something to look back on smiling and giving you energy. A visual tool to remind you of your strength. For every participant a scenario is worked out, not as something to strictly follow, more as a guideline…after all we’re not professional models and always helpful to have something to fall back on. Contentment in every way is high on Jo’s priority list and he keeps contact after the shoot to inform if experience and result meet the expectations. As for me double check on all levels!

For each shoot a different location in historic town of Mechelen is chosen. Clothing and accessories, etc were willingly lent by local shops and dealers. Maybe important to point out that this project is not funded in any way and the people participating do this willingly and are not paid, same goes for the dealers and shops that stepped in.

My location was the stunning Martin’s Patershof Hotel, former church in historic heart of Mechelen. The preserved arches and stained glass windows make it a unique shooting setting. Shots were taken in one of the rooms, hallway and lobby. Clothing was lent out to us by Scruples Life, many thanks Marina for your assistance, and hats and bags, all handmade, were from Awardt. Both stores located in Mechelen.

I can tell you being a model is not that simple as it looks and pretty exhausting at times, however got the hang of it as time flew by. Am so glad I took this opportunity and can honestly say I can recognise myself in each photo: sometimes with a smile, sometimes melancholic and yes, with a dash of glamour…instant feel good boost guaranteed! Oh, yes, almost forgot, there’s the back of course, but not in the spotlight!

For me, and am sure this goes for all participants, the shoot brings out the beauty and strength there is in each one of us.

Maybe our weaknesses are our greatest strength!

This is me…living my life…and a little bit of wings were added, 

for which, from the bottom of my heart, my sincere thanks Jo, Anke and Veerle!

 

Want to know more about the project or feel you can contribute? Please feel free to

contact degrootej.16@gmail.com

 

Ingrid

xxx

 

Hotel Martin’s Patershof

Awardt

Scruples Life

Jo de Groote photography

Fotografie Anke Van Haesendonck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Flanders Fields hop bells sing and nature soothes…

Last weekend we found ourselves immersed in Flanders’ fields, in the green region that stretches out from the North Sea coast, over the Flemisch hills and all the way up to the French border. A region where the landscape is silent witness of its sad, loud and violent past, where poppies colour the fields and the wind gently rustles through the hop bells…welcome in the Westhoek!

We started off our two-day break at the newly opened Bar Bernard brewery St-Bernardus Watou offering a 360 degree view on the surrounding landscape and a range of heavenly bears of course.

Bar Bernard Watou Westhoek

As it was almost lunchtime, a little snack was allowed…

Bar Bernard Watou

Hop fields Watou brewery St-Bernardus

Next stop: Poperinge with at the time of our visit the culinary festival ‘Lekker Westhoeks’ to promote regional produce…hop all around of course!

City Hall Poperinge

Time to check out our place to stay for the night which we booked through Vlaanderen Vakantieland where to stay…Nicely tucked away in the fields of peaceful village Krombeke, part of Poperinge, lies ‘Ons Content’. A true gem: the room has everything to offer you could possibly need and more, the views are amazing, the hosts welcoming with a warm genuine smile and open heart, garden full of life and colours and the breakfast beats any breakfast I have ever had before! One of those places one would rather keep to themselves, so, shhh, not too much advertising 😉 Ons Content

We had a lovely dinner in local restaurant ‘t Hommelhof. Chef Stefaan Couttenye is one of Belgium’s pioniers when pairing beers to gastronomy and he proudly uses local produce whenever he can.‘tHommelhof

Farm raised chicken ‘vol-au-vent’ with sweetbread and Kapittel prior of the brewery we visited earlier

Time to lay feet up and head to rest,…

…You can’t stop birds from singing: I’m a morning person, even on weekend breaks…after a good night’s rest this early bird had a short morning walk, though long enough to watch sunrise and see some hares playfully chasing each other in the nearby fields.

sunrise

sunrise

Flanders fields Poperinge

Good thing I had that morning walk as, remember,  there was that 5-star breakfast waiting with a wide range of sweet and savoury goodies! Needless to say we took our time to enjoy to the fullest!

After our goodbyes, we’ll be backs (without a doubt) and some top tips from our hosts we set off to provincial park Palingbeek (near Ypres) and land-art installation ComingWorldRememberMe by Koen Vanmechelen. Tourism Ypres Palingbeek

During four years thousands of people spread over Flanders and the rest of the world joined forces and together made 600.000 sculptures out of clay. Each sculpture representing one of the 600.000 victims who lost their lives in Belgium due to WWI. There is a walkpath up to the Bluff and a viewpoint over No Man’s Land…you are standing on land representing some dark pages of history…This unique memorial installation can be visited until 11th of November. You can read more about the project and artist’s vision hereCMxRW

 

CMxRW Palingbeek Ypres

Palingweek Ypres

CWxRM Palingbeek Ypres

 

 

Almost noon and we decided to head to Ypres…our visit coincided with Flanders Fields Triathlon and  Car Free Sunday resulting in a very lively city. We went from cheering on the swimmers on the ramparts…TourismYpres

Ypres Triathlon ramparts

…to thumbs up for all those who biked their way to the top rewarding them with the best views on Ypres’ Lakenhalle and Market square.

car free Sunday Ypres

Ypres market square Flanders

Ypres Lakenhalle Flanders

No visit to Ypres without a walk on the ramparts and stop at the Menin gate…

Menin gate Ypres

Menin gate Ypres

Menin Gate Ypres

This memorial was placed here in 1927 and is inscribed with the names of over 54000 soldiers without a grave…they passed through this city entrance, where the gate now stands, never to return…makes one silent no? In remembrance of those men, the Last Post, by local buglers, sounds every evening at 20pm.

Making it time for our last stop on this weekend break and we are staying in the ‘quiet’ zone…Tyne Cot  which is the largest British war cemetary on mainland Europe with almost 12000 tombstones…

Tyne Cot Flanders Fields

Tyne Cot Cemetary Flanders Fields

 

The Westhoek left a great impression:  surrounding nature soothes what lies in its past, though never forgotten…

Flanders Fields: A place To Remember

 

Ingrid

xxx

Tervuren pop-up memorial…

Tervuren poppy installation

Until 11th of November the former Panquin barracks at Tervuren, Belgium, near Sonian forest, are transformed into a World War I memorial and peace site.

Tervuren poppy installation

 

Landscape architects Sven Vangodtsenhoven and Hans Tuerlinckx of Art-Ex designed a 100-metre long path that consists of two parallel walls of stacked wood logs. All this with the intention to create the impression of a trench when walking through. Both ends of the logs are painted vibrant red with a little black dot, referring to the remembrance poppy and symbolising the many victims of the Great War.

Tervuren poppy installation

Into the niches between the logs, messages of hope and peace can be put, though we didn’t see that many at our recent visit…did they get blown away by the wind…who knows? Still two and a half months left to fill up the blanks with messages!

 

Tervuren poppy installation
path towards barracks and Tervuren city centre

At ‘Hoefijzerplein’ (the square has the shape of a horseshoe) the path is surrounded by a mowing field of grain and ‘popping-up’ poppies, a mix of styled artificial ones and the real ones. At the end, the path is slightly elevated overlooking St-Hubertus chapel and the ruins of the former ducal palace as well as Tervuren’s park and ponds.

Tervuren poppy installation

 

Fyi, four years after the barracks were abandonned the site will get a new destination: the buildings of architectural and historical interest will be respectfully restored and integrated in a multi-functional zone: housing units, hotel, green area and room for cultural events,…

As the site borders Tervuren park and ponds you have an excellent excuse to have that short, or longer, nature walk…

 

Tervuren park

Proximity of the Royal Museum for Central Africa is an asset. The site has been under restoration for years but we’re near the finish line as it will re-open its doors 9th of December 2018. Until then, no one keeps you from admiring the stunning neo-classical style building and adjoining gardens!

Africa museum Tervuren

Hope you enjoyed this little stroll through Tervuren, where nature meets city, past meets future and green meets red 😉

Ingrid

xxx

 

ps Special thanks to Eddy, @edandhiscamera on IG, my travel companion for the day and fellow photographer.

Visit Tervuren

Tervuren Park

Africa museum Tervuren

Valletta Three Cities tour…

Time to wrap up the Valletta series! In this third and final post you can follow in our footsteps, or wheels, as I take you around a Three Cities tour and more extensive visit of Birgu/Vittoriosa, so buckle up, we’re off!

The Three Cities tour Malta

‘The Three Cities’ is a general description of the three fortified cities of Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua. With Birgu the oldest one, existing since the Middle Ages, the other two cities, Senglea and Cospicua, were both founded by the Order of St John in the 16th and 17th centuries. Each city goes by two or more names, the one before or after the Great Siege.

 

It’s day four of our Valletta trip and though our Airbnb is located in Birgu/Vittoriosa we still haven’t actually explored this side of the water. To cover all three cities, four if you include Kalkara, by foot would take us too much time and kill my back so we hired some wheels to the rescue…not just a car…you can drive that at home too, right?! We went for a Rolling Geeks ride. A cool (bottled water inclusive) and relaxed (just enjoy the ride) way to explore…Think a pimped golf cart and you kinda get the picture…Belgian owner Kris or associate are around to give you detailed info on what to expect: basically you drive your own electric funky car, there’s a pre-programmed gps, language of your choice and your on-board gps tourist guide tells you where to stop, get out, admire the view and all relevant historic details.

Three Cities Malta Rolling Geeks

In about two and a half hours the tour takes you on a 17km ride from Birgu Waterfront to Kalkara, Senglea/Isla and Cospicua/Bormla. There’s enough time to take a stop and have a (non-alcoholic) drink (remember you’re driving) and if you should take a wrong turn, the gps corrects and Big Brother Kris and team are also tracking you…only seconds after your wrong turn you will get a call guiding you quickly and safely back on track. It’s hands on the wheel and eyes on the road…but you absolutely want to take selfies during the tour? No problem, the built-in camera does that for you…cool, right?! Enough talking, what do you get to see on this tour?

Malta forms perfect decor for many movies and its versatily is a great asset. Even when movie plot shows a completely other city, it may well be filmed in Malta…large parts of the movie ‘Munich’ for example were actually filmed at various locations on the island, standing in for scenes in the movie that play in Tel Aviv, the West Bank, Beirut, Cyprus, Spain, Athens and Rome! Want to keep track of the filming tours or upcoming projects, then keep an eye on Malta Film Tours

Three Cities Tour Malta Rolling Geeks

From Senglea and its viewpoint Il-Gardjola you get wonderful vistas on the harbour and Fort Sant Angelo.

Three Cities Malta Fort St Angelo
view on Fort St Angelo from Senglea

 

Three Cities Tour Malta
view on waterfront and Upper Barrakka Gardens to the right

Three Cities Tour Malta

The tour also brings you to the Cottonera Lines, a massive construction of fortifications, built in 17th century, with major aim to protect the Three Cities. The British later on expanded with Fort Verdala. What used to be fort barracks are now houses and apartments.

Three Cities Tour Malta
Main gate Cottonera Lines

 

Further on the route: plenty of picturesque and colourful buildings…

 

The tour ends where started: at Vittoriosa/Birgu Waterfront…time for that drink now, what do you think?!

Three Cities tour Malta
view on Birgu from across Harbour

We filled the rest of our day strolling through Birgu and Cospicua…

Before Valletta was the island’s capital, Mdina was…and before Mdina, Birgu was…The Knights of St John renamed it ‘Cittá Vittoriosa’, meaning ‘the victorious city’. These days this is shortened to ‘Vittoriosa’.

Three Cities Tour Malta

Three Cities Tour Malta

Our strolls were followed by a little dghasja harbour cruise to get in those phenomenal views from the water, and to be honest, to cool down too…when temperatures are high nothing beats the sound of splashing water and wind in the hairs!

Three Cities Tour Malta
Birgu Marina with view on Senglea

The Three Cities tour Malta

Three Cities Tour Malta

All now left to end this perfect day is an evening stroll down the Waterfront admiring the yachts and a delicious ‘dinner with a view’ as day slowly twinkles into night…

 

Three Cities Tour Malta Don Berto Birgu
dining al fresco at Don Berto…with a view…

Three Cities Tour Malta

The final day of our trip, well half a day, left us just enough time to join a historic re-enactment group as Fort St Angelo stepped back in time to when it was under French occupation….

Three Cities Malta Fort St Angelo

The central location of the medieval fort in the Grand Harbour offers spectacular views and was in history of extremely strategic interest. It played an important role during the Grand Siege and was headquarters to the Grand Master of the Order. According to legend it is built on site of a fortified Roman settlement.

Three Cities Malta Fort St Angelo

Three Cities Malta Fort St Angelo

Three Cities Malta Fort St Angelo

Such fun watching those ‘soldiers’, ‘salesmen and women’ marching towards the Fort…though in that heat in full gear and costume…you must admire their passion…

Three Cities Malta Fort St Angelo

All work and no play?? Euuh, obviously not always…

Three Cities Malta Fort St Angelo

The Three Cities tour Malta

Three Cities Tour Malta

Well, it’s a wrap, this five-day Valletta trip…Hope this post and the two previous ones Valletta 2018: the culture trip and Mdina: the silent city of King’s Landing…give you an impression of what to expect when heading to Malta’s capital…if you ask me, a more than worthwile citytrip destination, we had a blast!

Until we meet again 😉

Ingrid

xxx

Three Cities Tour Malta

 

Rolling Geeks

Visit Malta tourist info The Three Cities

Fort St Angelo

Valletta 2018: the culture trip

2018 stands for feast in overdrive in Valletta, capital of Malta, as the entire year it proudly wears the crown of ‘Culture Capital of Europe’. If you haven’t put it on your travel radar yet, now’s the time to adjust your antennas! With 320 monuments all within an area of 55ha that makes this compact capital one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world, and if UNESCO says so…

Valletta Malta

We explored this charming and picture-perfect city early June and we were completely under its spell from day one… join us, that’s the husband and me, on this little photo stroll through Valletta’s streets…

…though not winding…no, the city centre handles a uniform grid pattern and orientation is therefore easy. First things first though: we flew in from Brussels South with Ryanair and stayed in an Airbnb located in Cospicua/Bormla, one of the so-called ‘Three Cities’. We had a lovely trip to Mdina and an extensive fun tour of ‘The Three Cities’ which I’ll tell you more about in the next posts.

Three Cities Malta
Our Airbnb in Cospicua/Bormla

but let’s focus on Valletta first…

Malta’s history is forever linked to the Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem but to fully understand the capital’s and island’s current mix of styles and influences we need to step back much further in time for a (very brief, I promise) history lesson…

In chronological order the island was invaded by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Carthaginians, then came the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Norman, the Sicilians, the French and Spanish…are you still with me? Then, in 1530 the Knight Order arrived (more on that later) with years of glory and fall, followed again by a, this time very short, French rule; after them the British took over for many years. During WW2 the city suffered extremely heavy losses and bombings and then, fi-nally Malta gained independency in 1964…and if you would think all these influences would result in a mishmash of styles, think again…it all blends perfectly well to a, to this date, modern vibrant town that fully embraces its cultural heritage.

The island thanks it name to the Phoenicians, who called it Maleth, which means shelter. The Maltese language, still spoken, found its origin in Arabic and the capital was named after Jean Parisol de la Vallette, Grandmaster of the Knight Order and also the one who commissioned the building of the new city capital. You can have coffee full Italian Style and a Mediterrenean afternoon siesta oh and driving left and tea and biscuits stuck around too 😉

Valletta Malta
Queen Victoria forever wrapped in Maltese lace on Republic Street

How exactly did those knights end up in Malta? When they were thrown out of Israel by the Muslims, they first ended up in Rhodes until they had to flee from there too. The Spanish king gave them Malta to make their home, which they did. Years of glory followed, with fortifications being built, coming out victoriously out of the Grand Siege and Turkish attacks and the building of a brand new capital and more defence structures. All that building and defending against enemy invasions cost a lot of money though and by then some of the knights of the Order had a certain decadent lifestyle they didn’t want to give up, scandals followed and hence the fall of the Order.

Enough talking, time for photos now 😉

Staying in the Three Cities meant our daily trip to the city centre included the inner harbour crossing by ferry (fun) or typical dhasja (much more fun).

Valletta Malta
View on docking area and elevator to Barrakka Gardens coming from Three Cities

 

Stepping off the boat and heading left brings you to the elevator (your feet and back will thank you) going high up to ‘Upper Barrakka Gardens’. This is a ‘must do’ to see and be seen: you can admire the phenomenal view on the Grand Harbour, watch the canon firings at 12 and 16pm, feed the pigeons, have a snack and drinks, people-watch or just rest and absorb those holiday vibes.

Valletta Malta

 

These gardens were installed on the upper of  the St Peter & Paul bastion, originally as place of recreation for the Italian knights of the Order. On the lower tier you can find the saluting battery.

Salute at 12h and 16h

Valletta Malta
Some odd feathers could be spotted during our stay – part of an historical re-enactment group

Valletta Malta

From Barrakka Gardens on you can start exploring the city at your own pace or if you appreciate some extra historical and cultural info, join one of the many guided tours. We joined a ‘Colour my Travel’ tour taking us on a three hour walk through the city centre.

Colour My Travel tour Valletta
Colour My Travel city tour
Valletta Malta Auberge de Castille
Auberge de Castille Valletta

guards at Grandmaster's Palace

The Lady of Victories chapel is built on the exact spot the very first stone was laid when building the city of Valletta.

Lady of Victories chapel Valletta Malta

A definite must see is Saint John’s co cathedral, built in only five years time. The interior decorating took much longer and if you step inside you’ll immediately understand why as there’s not a blank inch in the cathedral left. Paintings, floor marble stones, tapistries, sculptures, crypt, you name it and you’ll defintely find it inside! The decorations on the walls were all paid for by two Cottoner brothers, Raphael Cottoner and Nicholas Cottoner. They were both grand-masters and you can find their monograms RC and NC on the walls. St John’s Co Cathedral has 375 graves. Their gravestones, all in marble, show the knights and grand-masters that are buried inside this cathedral. The oratory is also of great interest and do expect some crowds when visiting, all admiring one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces and the only work signed by him ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’.

 

 

Merchant St, Republic St and Old Bakery St all lead to Fort St Elmo, the crossing streets will either lead you to Sliema Ferry landing area or Upper and Lower Barraka Gardens. Do not miss out on those Lower Gardens as they equally guarantee a phenomenal view.

Valletta Malta

Monument Lower Barrakka Gardens

 

Even on colourful eye-catcher and cities’ trademark, the famous balconies, the mixed cultural influences left their mark. There still, apparently, is some discussion whether Arabic or Spanish origins. Most probably it comes from Arabic times when women had to stay out of sight and this got translated to Maltese way over time, with housewives watching the world go by from above and with little side-windows to gossip with/about the neighbours (?)

Valletta Malta balconies

Valletta streets malta

CA379D13-CBC7-4D38-A7C7-79378A93E158

Bridge Bar Valletta balconies

Valletta shop signs
Een bijschrift invoeren

By now you probably think there are only old stones to walk on in this capital…meet Valletta 2.0…

Parliament house Valletta

The above photo is part of the Parliament House and architect Renzo Piano’s (the one of the Shard in London) so-called ‘City Gate Project’, a masterplan to restyle the old City Gate area. He made some very drastic changes, as the old gate in no longer an actual gate but a V-shaped entrance and citizens had to grow accustomed to this new style. However, to my opinion he succeeded wonderfully wel in marrying old and new. The stone slabs in the limestone are carved out this way to copy natural erosion by nature.

open-air theatre Valletta
open-air theatre

Parliament House Valletta City Gate

 

Have I convinced YOU that Valletta is worth a visit? Then start planning your trip and check the cities’ tourist site and 2018 cultural highlights!

Valletta City Gate

Next post in this series will highlight the Three Cities and Mdina, stay tuned 😉

Ingrid

xxx

Valletta City Gate

Visit Malta

Airbnb Valletta

Ryanair

Colour my Travel

Unesco Valletta

An unbalanced life…

When is too much too much? When do you throw in the towel? Am I being selfish for thinking ‘why don’t you just bundle all this **** and dump it at someone else’s door…not that I wish anyone that much misfortune…

Just indulge me this little intermezzo in self-pity and I’ll be back to my usual smiling and ‘taking it one day at the time’ soon!

Somewhere on this blog you could already read about my health issues…I’m a chronic backpain patient due to severe scoliosis.Crash and reboot, the chronic back pain tales and Don’t you breakdown…  I have chronic pains, radiating pains to legs, neck and head and what I call my random pain attacks…the worst…that’s pain on three levels only from one condition and with all this my ‘backpack: this is life, deal with it’ is pretty much full as it is. I know backpacks have those little side pockets and are super flexible…but there’s a weight limit right?!

Three years ago I got tinnitus, not exactly a fun gift, I can assure you, as it affects my sleep a lot, but hey, there are worse things. Two years ago they discovered I had a leaking heart valve. Then last year, and still ongoing, a thyroid condition and nodule came in the picture and since last week there’s a new kid in town: a balance disorder. Had been light-headed for a while but since a few days now I can’t go outside without getting dizzy, nauseous, loosing balance and feeling very insecure. My eyes don’t follow my own movements or environmental movements as rapidly which makes it hard to focus and very exhausting. Even typing gives me headache as the eyes moving from the keyboard to the page gives a blurry and delayed sensation. The London and Malta posts will come with some delays because of this, bare with me…

Already consulted a doctor and there is indeed a disorder on one side of the balance system…however, more tests needed to find out by what it is caused and exactly which part is affected…in the meantime…it’s an unbalanced life and trying to stay on my feet, literally…oh and trying to find ways to pimp that backpack too😉

Feel free to send me some happy vibes!

Ingrid
Xxx

Sea x art

Don’t shoot me but I’m not a musea person, no matter the subject…can’t help it…However, I know what I like and don’t like: I like admiring buildings and can appreciate architecture whether modern or historical, I like colours and patterns, texture and there has to be that wild card that ignites the fantasy. Pull the objects out of a building, place them in nature or outside somewhere and you’ll have my attention.

Our recent trip to Ostend, Queen of Belgian seaside resorts, rewarded us with ‘open-fresh (though my husband persisted ‘cold’) air’ artworks to admire when strolling through town.

Beaufort is a triennial art project that extends along the entire Belgian coastline covering 15 resorts each having their own identity. It is a project that was first launched in 2003 in which the sea very often plays the main role. Furthermore every participating artist comes from a country that borders on the sea.

Beaufort Ostend

In Ostend there are three different Beaufort-artworks to discover however during our walk on the western strekdam we stumbled onto the Monument for a Wullok by Stief Desmet. A wullok always holds some kind a magic and as a kid holding it to your ear, thinking you could hear the sea and what lied beyond…wow…however some things stay secret and magical, reason for the artist to return the bronze sculpture to the sea and let time, the salty air and sand transform it.

The Crystal Ship

Together with the Beaufort art project Ostend is also home to the Crystal Ship open-air art exhibition. An international group of visual artists (more than 50) transform existing structures with their creative interventions and murals. In this concept of ‘public street art festival’ it is the largest one in Europe!

This visit our eye fell on the works of Telmo&Miel at Nieuwpoortsesteenweg.

The Crystal Ship

Even without big events or festivals like these, Belgian seaside always has something to offer to please the eye if you would ever get bored of wave or people watching…

The picturesque ‘Duinenkerkje’ at Mariakerke/Ostend is the final rest place for painter Ensor where he lies peacefully…altough…surrounded by lively sheep and a colourful rabbit…

Ostend

Ostend

And in neighbouring De Haan some beautiful romantic sculptures keep you company on your evening walk…

De Haan

De Haan

De Haan

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

(Cummings)

‘Sea’ you soon…

Ingrid

xxx

Ostend

Beaufort 2018

The Crystal Ship

Belgian Coast tourist info

Antwerp’s delicious aftertaste…

Sun, happy vibes and excellent food, aren’t these usually thé key ingredients to create that glorious holiday mood? Past days, for us, that didn’t even involve airmiles or long drives…for four long days Antwerp’s Waagnatie was centre stage for the culinary festival ‘Antwerpen Proeft’ freely translated as Antwerp tastes…tastes how? Quite delicious!

Antwerpen Proeft

Invited by Elvea1885, the brand that brings excellent quality and Italian flavours into your kitchen, and accompanied by the lovely weather last Saturday we found ourselves heading to Antwerp Waagnatie premises, located in vibrant ‘het Eilandje’.

Antwerpen Proeft

The culinary festival, the 12th edition already, has a tradition of bringing the world and its kitchen on your plate with a variety of restaurants and culinary experts presenting their signature dishes in bite-sized portions and a cost-friendly price setting. In addition there is room for a full programme of demonstrations and workshops, from Weber grill expert Academy to AEG-sponsored baking and cooking classes for young and old.

ProefMee

Antwerpen Proeft

For those among you that are of the ‘forever in doubt’ type…this festival will be quite a challenge, but of the fun kind! Take a few strolls and absorb flavours and colours before your stomach sounds indicate a decision will have to be taken eventually. No matter the dish(es) of your choice it will taste great!

Antwerpen Proeft

Antwerpen Proeft

Antwerpen Proeft

Antwerpen Proeft
Divin by Sepi

Our eye fell on the attractive food presentation and expert and passioned explanation of Gå Nord, presenting a fusion of scandinavian and oriental cuisine, inspired on the wabi-sabi philosophy, thus combining pureness and simplicity.

Of the two mouthwatering dishes on display we chose the Knäckebröd with horse-radish, flakes of cedarwood-smoked salmon and pickled vegetables. Colours and flavours in perfect harmony, truly yummy.

Antwerpen Proeft

Antwerpen Proeft

Outdoors the inviting seating by the water seduced us to enjoy an excellent Belgian Entre-deux-Monts Chardonnay wine, provided at the Belgian wines-stand. If not a wine lover, then head for one of the cocktails, belgian beers or water stands! Sip, relax and watch the world go by…

Scheldt river

Attending the festival and location is easily to combine with some shopping and city-stroling, either in Antwerp historic city centre or stay closer and explore what ‘t Eilandje’ has to offer.

Conclusion: a festival that leaves a sweet, lingering aftertaste…will YOU be joining next year’s edition?

Ingrid

Xxx

Antwerpen Proeft

ps you can find out more about the festival and its participants here or stay tuned on upcoming Antwerp events here

Maastricht: a photo stroll…

One month ago one of March’s beautiful spring weekends led us to Belgian Voer-region and Dutch city Maastricht. A perfect combination: countryside and city, best of both worlds…You could already read all about our discoveries in Voer here Welcome in the Voer region…but I still owed you some Maastricht tales and photos…

Maastricht lies at the crossroads of the three countries that together make up the Euregion Meuse-Rhine with ‘Maas’tricht itself lies at river Meuse.

Maastricht

We stayed in Townhouse Hotel located in Wyck-district near city station and it offers warm hospitality and coziness in a modern decor.

A very special thanks to the hotel helpful hotel staff as during our stay my husband got sick and we were forced to stay longer…not a punishment for me, but sadly no romantic weekend as he experienced most of Maastricht out of his room😟

Mainly just me therefore exploring the city, so do keep me company and join me on this little stroll!

Maastricht

Maastricht is often described as one of the most romantic cities of the Netherlands offering a wonderful variety with quaint historical districts, art, history, culture, gastronomy and calm green surroundings. What’s not to like?

The Wyck-district, where we were staying is linked with Maastricht’s city centre through the ‘Sint-Servaasbrug’ and is therefore frequently used by pedestrians and cyclists.

Maastricht
view towards Wyck-district
Maastricht
and crossing to the other side, direction city centre

If your mind is set on shopping, Maastricht definitely is the right place: hip and vintage in Wyck, multi-brand shopping centers Mosae Forum and Entre Deux in city centre and the more posh boutiques in ‘Stokstaartkwartier’ ánd always open on Sundays!

Shopping makes hungry, right?!

Maastricht houses one of Holland’s most unique bookstores, being located in a former church ‘Boekhandel Dominicanen’ offers an enormous collection of books with a view, oh and yummy coffee and sweets in the inside shop!

Maastricht

Maastricht
City hall

Maastricht

Maastricht is also one of the oldest cities of Holland: Saint Peter’s caves and fortress, the casemates, stone wall…all still prominent witnesses of Maastricht’s prominent place in history. One place in particular that you just have to visit when inside city centre is ‘het Vrijthof’. This large square has attracted people since medieval times when pilgrims came to see the grave of Saint Servatius, lying in the Basilica carrying his name. These days, Vrijthof is also known for its many outdoor cafés and frequent events.

Maastricht

At ‘De Bisschopsmolen’, a bakery in a restored watermill, they are justly proud of their craftmanship and working with natural products and simple processes.

After visiting the mill, do take a further stroll in the Jeker-district, Jeker being a small stream, flowing into the Maas here in the city. Explore Helpoort, the oldest surviving city gate in the Netherlands, and the characterful surrounding streets.

Welcome in the Voer region…

…once a political and linguistic battleground, now every wanderer’s, cyclist’s and nature lover’s dream! This rural region is situated in the far eastern part of Belgium, in province Limburg, and consists of six small villages* lying at a stone’s throw from the Belgian-Dutch border yet still close to major cities as Liège, Aachen and Maastricht.  Its location nearby rivers Rhine and Meuse, the landscape and soil have always attracted many to exploit: the Romans did, even traces back to prehistoric times can be found…Over the years however nature, the unique character, position and its advantages rightfully took the upper hand for this region…who cares which language is spoken when there is so much to enjoy and discover…

bridge Voerstreek

St-Martens-Voeren is dominated by the tall ( 23 metres) railway bridge. It is part of the rail connection Tongeren-Aken, mainly used for freight transport and was built by the Germans in World War I.

As in most of these tiny villages, the church building dominates and in this case also the starting point of hiking route ‘de Bronnenwandeling’ which was chosen most beautiful hiking trail in Flanders in 2012.

No exploring on an empty stomach though, Hoeve de Bies is ideal for any short or longer hungry break and when in Limburg of course, the typical ‘Limburgse vlaai’ is all around…resistance is futile!

dessert tea break

It was the tiny hamlet of Veurs (Sint-Martens-Voeren) that stunned us most during our little trip. This particular area is known for its concentration of typical timber frame houses. It is home to some extraordinary fauna and flora, mixes tree orchards and small forests and it’s oh so quiet…big like!

Veurs timbered houses

Veursvallei Limburg Voeren

Timbered houses

landscape Voeren Limburg

nature soil Voeren

horseriding Limburg Voeren

 

Sint-Pieters-Voeren is the smallest of the six ‘Voer-villages’, with fewer than 300 inhabitants, and best-known for its Commanderie. This castle belonged to the German Knights Templar until the French revolution. The current building was constructed in the beginning of the 17th century in the so-called ‘Meuse-region Renaissance-style’.

Commanderie Sint-Pieters-Voeren

In the park of the castle lies the spring  that provides the ponds and the Voer river with water at a ratio of some 3000 litres per minute. In these surrounding ponds trout and sturgeon are bred which is a true delicacy and is on the menu at the local on-site brasserie and many of the local restaurants.

We had our feet up and enjoyed a lovely little ham and cheese snack at Gasterij de Commanderie opposite the castle.

Gasterij de Commanderie

Perfect way to end this little pre-Spring ‘tourist in own country’ trip and look back on the lovely landscapes and walking routes we discovered along the way. This definitely tastes for more, litterally, as there are some outstanding winehouses in this region as is the nearby abbey of Val-Dieu and its beer of the same name, needless to say we’ll be back!

Next post I’ll take you along to Maastricht, just over the Belgian-Dutch border and easily to combine with a Voerstreek visit!

Voerstreek Limburg Timbered house

Ingrid

xxx

 

(*) Moelingen, ‘s-Gravenvoeren, Sint-Martens-Voeren, Sint-Pieters-Voeren, Teuven and Remersdaal

Tourist info Voerstreek

Voeren stormy history

Gasterij de Commanderie

Hoeve de Bies